Heartcleft road – Gna’s Story part 7

Posted: October 31, 2014 in Aesir & Asynjur, Deities & Wights, Gna, Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Part 7: Mirror, Mirror –

Ganglati provided me a room in the castle, tastefully decorated in dark burgundy and black – quite lavish actually. The canopy bed had all manner of beasts carved into its dark red wood, as did the dressers, chairs and such.

I spent quite a while flopped on that bed’s comforter, drawn into staring at the embroidered spiral of life tapestry that hung above me. I missed the one in Asgard with constellations. It always brought me comfort when I wasn’t on the road, sleeping under the stars. At least I’m still alive… sort of, I told myself, running a hand over my hair.

After the not-quite-nap, I wasted more time frowning in front of the standing mirror. I looked surprisingly good in Hela’s colors. Royal blue was best for blondes, but all-black made me look more dangerous. Better for intimidation than diplomacy, and since I was tired of being pushed around, I liked it. The job, I wasn’t so sure of.

My new linen coat – stitched in diamond patterns with silver thread – marked me as agent and messenger of Death. I glanced down at myself. Leather boots and riding breeches completed the outfit. A belt held the short knife Oathbreaker in its sheath. Syn would love my new uniform, I reflected with a faint smile; she flat out refused to wear our official white “shoot me now” tabard, as she called it. My chest tightened with the memory. I missed her.

Don’t trust them, she’d tell me if she stood by my side. Reveal nothing. Show no weakness. You’re too naïve Gna. I sighed, almost feeling her hand on my shoulder. Mordgud and Ganglati had been kind to me, welcoming in their own way, and I didn’t know when I’d be allowed to see Hoof-Tosser. Could I truly spend years in service here alone without trust or friends? Asgard had rejected me and I’d sworn myself to the tender care of other side. I’d made my own bed of thorns, and now I had to lie in it.

I rubbed the side of my head, feeling a headache coming on.

Regardless, I needed to learn more about how this place was run and what the rules were. I’d have valuable information to report… if I ever returned to Asgard.

I leaned closer to the iron-framed mirror. Were those dark circles under my eyes? My eyelids seemed more shaded than they had an hour ago, and there was something ever-so-slightly off about my entire skin. Paler, bluer perhaps? Anger welled up and I turned away. Is my body no longer my own? I thought. Dying would be simpler than this partial death and mortgage on my life.

Suddenly self-conscious, fingers rose to cover the front opening of my high collar. It hid most of the bluish mark, where Hela’s bony hand had strangled me. Her unholy rot ran in my veins, slowly eating away who I once was, and I despaired of ever returning to the purity of my previous existence. I turned to my latch-bolted door. If my hair started falling out…  I’d seriously consider locking myself away , so none might ever again see my sorry state of decay.

“Fool!” I cried out, throwing my hands up as I faced the looking glass again. “You are an underworld goddess now Gna, so be a good one. Pretending you’re as you were won’t make it so. Stop wasting time and get on with it, you have important work to do.” The girl in the mirror seemed unconvinced.

Still, I still had to report to Mordgud at her tower for further instructions. Hand on knife hilt, I ventured out of my bedroom – with the nagging sense I was forgetting something important.

I navigated the black stone corridors with a brisk step that slowed as I went down the winding stairs, fearing what dreadful task my first assignment might hold – such as telling a small child their life was over.

Too soon I faced the bone doors that led outside, and paused with teeth clenched. Anguish assaulted me and I squeezed my head, grasping handfuls of hair. Hoof-Tosser would have a good word for me if he were here, I thought. I wasn’t used to being alone with my thoughts for so long, there was always someone with me to fill the silence. In every world I had a few special friends to give me comfort, save this one.

A large mottled spider skittered near. “Hello, spider,” I said. It stopped. “Can you talk to me?”

It raised two furry front legs in greeting, then scampered away.

“Great,” I sighed. “The only animals here are the kind I have trouble talking with.”

I dragged my feet to the door until my palms rested against its yellowed surface, biting my upper lip. One pull and I’d be out, on my way to performing my new duties. My hands trembled. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing.

Should, would, could. Gotta go, Gna, I thought, but felt frozen. Motivational mind-tricks failed, I couldn’t set myself in motion. A peek then, just a look outside, I told myself. Slowly, I pulled the doors open and sunlight streamed in. As Sunna’s warm rays fell upon me I realized there had been no light within the castle. Truly, my home was a tomb.

“So I can see in pitch darkness now,” I whispered. “That’s useful, I suppose.” Perhaps if my list of perks of the job got long enough I’d appreciate being here stuck here. Yeah, right.

Feeling suffocated by shadows, I pulled the doors wide open, not expecting to see so many people as I peered out – no longer were the dead hidden from my sight. They wore the fashions of every past century as they paraded before me, carrying vegetables out of the garden that grew on this side of the castle. None seemed to notice me as they traveled the well trampled path, carpeted by green weeds on either side. An ocean of isolation separated us as they chattered just a few yards away, and I felt as chokingly lonely as when the doors had been closed.

I watched them for hours from the vestibule, unable to will myself forward into the crowd. My inner dialog and pulse ebbed into silence, and I felt… nothing. A lethargic thought surfaced, that I should worry about my lack of noticeable heartbeat, but couldn’t raise enough heat about it to care. Suspended between going and avoiding, all that remained was the flatness and emotional silence of being dead inside.

During that day a hunchback came in, inspected me briefly, said something, and moved on.

A lady in a cloak walked around me on her way out.

A knight in tarnished armor went out, and later back in. Nothing stirred within, not even curiosity. I simply observed the dead making the motions of life.

Those hours felt like years.

I sank into a cross-legged seat as the cloak of night fell.

Stars slowly made their way across the sky during my motionless vigil, slipping in and out from my endless staring until twilight returned to Helheim. It wasn’t much worthy of calling it morning, since we were in the shadow of the great wall till noon.

≡≡≡

She was the first to raise something resembling interest: a lovely blonde with loose hair in a brown sleeveless kirtle dress. It looked like she was trying to joke with one of the other women, but was rewarded with only a glare. Kirtle Woman stopped, looked around. Others kept away, averting their eyes as they flowed around her. She sighed and with a resigned expression continued carrying her burden.

I almost had an emotion about that.

≡≡≡

The next day I noticed her making a few trips, arms filled with fruits of the harvest, and still none spoke with her.

Idly, I wished someone would wrap me in a warm blanket, though the discomfort wasn’t sufficient to move me.

I imagined myself eventually decaying down to a pile of bones where I sat. Years from now, people would still be walking around my remains. Some might even wonder who I had been, if I’d ever mattered to anyone.

So many bones lie unremembered. One more pile would make no difference.

≡≡≡

As dawn rose on the fourth day I felt the first hints of anticipation. Though still statue-like, I actively scanned for her arrival, and believe I slightly pressed my lips when she came into view – emerging from an opening in the low bone-fencing of the garden. I couldn’t have missed her arrival, so she’d probably entered from the other side.

Thump.

Was that a heartbeat? Perhaps.

Her hands held as many onions as they could, balanced against the lacing of her bosom. Her bare arms looked good, unusually muscular, and I wondered why she didn’t have baskets like the others.

My eyes widened as I saw an older woman in a gray wool dress stretch her leg in front of the blonde. She tripped and scattered onions everywhere.

Thump. Thump-thump.

Grey Woman laughed, as did many others, and no one moved to help her up. Blondie lay face down in the trampled dirt for a few breaths, then raised her head. Had she been able to see me, our eyes would have met. That look, it was familiar to me. I was sure of it I’d worn it recently.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

My fingers twitched.

“Go back to your mound,” Grey Woman sneered. “We don’t want your kind touching our food.”

Ta-da-thump. Ta-da-thump. Ta-da-thump.

I stood. Though light-headed, blood was finally pumping through my veins again with anger and concern. I hate bullies.

Kirtle woman ignored her attacker, and with a sigh slowly started gathering the onions as I stepped out and glanced around. Far to my left stones littered the ground, suggesting the rear of the castle was in some disrepair, though a fog obscured my sight. Few seemed to venture there. I smiled as I stifled the urge to explore. That curiosity boded well for my return to sanity.

Folk were surprised by my sudden appearance, but immediately moved out of my way, bowing to me as I glided to her. She was leaning against the fence, perhaps steeling her courage to continue, when she spied my boots approaching. With wide doe-eyes she looked up and cringed, frozen on the spot as if before her hunter.

“Miss, could you pause a moment,” I murmured.

Ta-da-thump. Ta-da-thump.

“I… yes, of course Milady.”

I cleared my throat. “Why do they… treat you so poorly?”

She bit her lower lip, hesitating, then lifted her bangs. There was a cross burned into her forehead, with angry welts as if still fresh. “This mark on my spirit, it be the sign of my Christian baptism. They do not feel I belong here, Milady.”

Intrigued, I continued. “Why are you here then, if you belong to that god?”

“I do not,” she spat, eyes still low. “I was branded – by their baptismal water – against my will as a baby. I refused their god in life, though I did not know of this place or the ancestral gods of my people. When my end came, I found myself led here.”

“I can see,” I said with an arching eyebrow, “how that would make you unpopular. Can this mark not be erased?”

She finally raised her eyes to mine. “Usually, but they keep refusing to remove it. My cross to bear, and punishment for the doing of priests.”

A breeze ruffled through nearby trees, allowing a few yellow leaves to fall.

“That seems very unfair,” I said.

“It is Hela’s will,” she shrugged.

My question was answered, yet I needed more to say: some way to keep her here with me. My mouth felt full of sand, my thoughts scattered. Without willing it, my hand raised a few inches, reaching for her. Self-consciously I dropped it, squeezed my eyes shut and dry-swallowed. Words, I could find words – before she went away and left me to my silence.

Opening my eyes, I realized I could compliment her.

“That’s a nice dress you’re wearing. The style can’t be more than two hundred years old.”

“Thank you,” she curtsied, relaxing slightly. “We do get new ones from arrivals, but most prefer those of our living days. I wore clothing much like this, in my twenties up there.”

“So you’re recently dead then,” I nodded to myself.

“Methinks I’ve been here,” she scrunched up her face in thought, “less than a century or so? I’ve lost count, Milady, but could enquire if it matters.”

“No, that’s all right,” I shrugged, pulling at my black sleeves. They seemed annoyingly shorter than my old gambeson’s, and I was fresh out of small talk.

Wringing my hands I asked: “Would… you be willing to give me counsel?”

Her mouth hung open, and she squeezed her load against the lacing of her chest – which made her bosom bulge attractively.

Ta-da-thump. Ta-da-thump.

“What advice could the likes of me be giving to a goddess?” she wondered aloud.

Haltingly I spoke: “I’m… new here. Less than a week. I don’t know how to be, here, like this. A stillness took hold of me. I spent days watching you people, unable to care or move.”

She gazed up. “I think… I know what you be talking about. It happens to some of us, this quiet. I don’t know how to undo it though. Is there not someone you could be asking among the wise ones?”

“No one came to look after me. You’re the only one who stirred something inside me, enough to act on it.”

She looked startled, then frowned. Oh. She’d noticed I was staring at her chest again, which gave my words an entirely different meaning. Eyes up Gna!

Realization crept across her face with the smile of one who’s learned a naughty secret. The tension in her shoulders melted, and she cocked one of her hips out. Taking a deep breath, she raised her head high and jutted her chest forward.

“I would… be happy to help you however I can, Milady.”

Well, that’s one way to make a friend, I thought. At least I didn’t offend. And she is rather pretty.

“I’m… alone,” I confided. “I think you are too.”

She deflated a bit, shoulders hunching again as she nodded.

Cheer her up, then bring her down. Way to go, Gna. Bitterly I thought: Why don’t you kick some puppies while you’re at it?

“Perhaps,” I continued, “we can be friends? I am Gna, messenger of Asgard, or was until recently.”

“Grisella,” she said, “daughter of Hugh, blacksmith of Shildon. Well met Milady.” She curtsied, seeming pleased by my offer.

Something dawned on me and I cocked my head. “How did you know I was a goddess?”

She raised an eyebrow. “How could I not, Milady?”

“I am indeed a goddess…” I said, raising splayed hands as I tried to rephrase my question, “but how do you know this?”

She shifted to the other foot. “Well, your presence, it be much more… real than ours? Solid I suppose. Then there’s the way you’re dressed, though there be noble-born here too. I guess it’s the glow that gives it away.”

“Glow you say?” I said brightly, “I can’t see it myself. Is it a golden glow like the sun’s?”

She giggled. “Now you be teasing me Milady! That be for Asgardians like Baldr. Our gods here have a darksome glow like yours that pulls in the light.”

He gets to keep his Asgardian glow, I silently fumed. How is that fair?

She frowned. “Have I offended you Milady? I’m very sorry if I have.”

“I still served Frigga just a few days ago,” I explained curtly, “and I’m not yet used to all the changes. It’s not you I’m upset with.”

She gave a blank look. “Frigga?”

“You don’t know Frigga?” I asked in shock.

“I’ve never heard of her, Milady. Is she another who be a servant of Death?”

I blinked. Heat rose to my face. Restraining my wrath, I spoke slowly: “She is the Queen of Heaven, the All-Mother who cares for all in the Nine Worlds.” Losing all composure, I shouted: “Baldr is her son! How can you know him and not know Frigga!”

She took a step back, and dropped the onions with a gasp. “I’m sorry Milady I’m just a doltish blacksmith’s daughter and I didna learn of the gods in my life. I just…” she took a breath, “learned of Baldr here, and Hela of course, and the others at the gates, and I’m very sorry please don’t banish me to Nastrond!”

She fell to her knees, with trembling hands raised in prayer.

Now I felt like an ass for terrifying the poor girl. Of course she didn’t know us. How could she? The last Heathen kingdom had fallen to the new god in Midgard half a millennia ago. I knelt next to her in a soft patch of yarrow, gently laying my hands on her shoulders.

“Grisella,” I said softly, “listen to me. It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you or banish you or do anything of the sort. All right? I was just surprised and upset at how far we goddesses have faded from memory.”

She sniffled and turned her head to look at me. “I didn’t do bad?”

I smirked and let an arm fall, leaving one to caress her back. “I’m sure you’ve done some bad, but not enough to be concerned about it. Listen, I’m sorry for scaring you. I’m having a bit of a rough time, but that’s no excuse to take it out on you.”

Inwardly I worried: What is wrong with me? I don’t normally have that sort of temper. Am I already turning into one of these scary death goddesses?

She relaxed. My petting seemed to drain the tension from her body, and this time I did notice a dark glow around my hand, if such can be called a glow.

Her face, it looked… serene? Like all the cares had melted away.

“In death we serve,” she said with a smile.

I peered at the shadows radiating around my fingers and frowned. This power was unfamiliar to me. I was doing something to her, but what?

“Grisella, what did I just do to you?”

“You’ve given me your blessing, Milady, and I’m grateful.”

“Could you explain that? Remember, I’m new here.”

Her eyelids fluttered, face still utterly calm. “Aye, Milady. When grieving for our loss becomes too much, we can seek one of you goddesses. We ask ‘Lady, please grant me peace.’ Then she answers ‘There is no loss without gain. Be at peace.”

Alleviating grief and granting peace, I reflected. That’s a useful spell to have. Another item for my list I suppose. If only I’d had it to help William when he was wailing over my… wait, what?

“Blasted meddling underworld bitches!” I swore, raising hands to the sky. It all made sense: how calm and clarity had filled me only after Mordgud took my hand at the outer gates, and why she’d kept holding my hand almost all the way to the castle.

How dare she use that on me without asking, the same way I use my talent to settle down spooked horses and pets? Though I was by no means a war goddess, there were asses in need of kicking – for making me forget William along with my worries.

“You’re upset again,” she stated, her tranquility barely ruffled enough to raise her eyebrows. “Was it something I said?”

“No, I… okay, listen Grisella. I spent a while as a human in Midgard… and my body died… right in front of my six year old son. I made a deal with Hela to revive that body with one of her souls, so he can have a mother… and I’m partly dead now, in payment for that.”

“I understand, I think. So why are you cursing them?”

“Trouble is,” I said with a scowl, “I have no idea if she kept her part of the bargain, and they made me forget all about my son with their dark blessing. Everyone’s been yanking me around, holding back information, and it’s pissing me off.”

I was of half a mind to kick down doors and demand answers, though certain it would go poorly for me if I did. No one pushed Hela around and lived to brag about it.

Grisella nodded. “I wouldn’t know anything about greater powers deciding my fate without consulting me.”

I did a double take as her placid face cracked into a lopsided smile. Was that sarcasm ?

“I’m at peace,” she said, eyes downcast, “Not struck to the head. I’m not sure the blessing does what you think it does, Milady.”

I nodded, taken aback by her candor.

I shook my head and brought my palm hover near her shoulder. “I’m a right git, aren’t I? You’re not as young as you seem, and I’m not the only one with problems.”

“As you say, Milady,” she nodded. “You can bring your mitt back if you like, Milady” she said evenly, “it felt nice. There be few gentle hands on me of late.”

My fingers landed on her loose golden hair. It was silky, soothing. Fussing with it helped keep my worries at bay. Some tension left my shoulders, remembering Mama brushing my hair when I was upset.

Folk moved around as if we weren’t there, giving us the illusion of privacy as we sat on the feathery soft weeds. Even their conversations were hushed.

“I suppose I have no right feeling so sorry for myself. I’m not fully dead so there’s still hope. Oh. No insult intended to the dead.”

“None taken,” she sighed. “Milady’s blessing’s is already fading. Pity.”

“Does it usually last longer?”

“Oh, a good one can last weeks…”

My head drooped, and a feeling of inadequacy washed over me. I brushed dirt off my trousers with the other hand.

“I did it again, didn’t I?” she said as my hand slid off her back. She squeezed her hands. “Milady… perhaps these things need practice? We could… try again if you like?”

A smirk graced my face as I was struck by the ridiculousness of my situation.

“If you just relaxed into it, Milady, I’m sure you could last longer next time.”

A chuckle escaped me, and soon turned into a belly laugh. At first she was puzzled, but then giggled as the double meaning became clear. Bystanders hurried away, wondering if we’d gone insane.

“Thank you Grisella,” I said, wiping a tear as I stood, “I needed that.”

“So did I, Milady, I’ve not had a laugh in a while,” she smiled as I helped her up.

Glancing about, I said: “I should probably help you gather those onions, it being my fault and all.”

“Don’t be a’worryin’ over it, Milady,” she said as she bent to pick one up, “it was worth it.”

Is she bending at the hip on purpose? I wondered, or am I reading too much into it? She did have nice curves.

“Well, um,” I rubbed my neck, “I should be going now. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

She nodded enthusiastically and waved, before reaching down again.

In a daze I walked all the way back to my room, before realizing I was supposed to meet Mordgud.

“I’m still adjusting to my death,” I said, staring at my bed. “No one can fault me for taking an extra night of rest.” It was getting late to head out anyway, almost sunset, and I preferred facing her in daytime. A little sleep would do me good.

≡≡≡

Pulling the covers over myself, I relived my time with the lass in my mind’s eye. Unsatisfied, I pulled a pillow against my body. Better. Squeezing it tight, I fell asleep with a smile.


Note: Happy Halloween and Samhain! Over 8 pages, four thousand words. Hope it was worth the wait, I needed three rewrites to get it to where Gna, my editor and I were all happy with it!

It really throws a wrench in my posting schedule when I get “you must write more *here*” just as I’m about to post a chapter… 😛

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Comments
  1. Teka Lynn says:

    In the midst of death, we are in life? Or at least flirtatious snark? : )

    Like

    • lofnbard says:

      We never feel more alive than when narrowly avoiding death. That’s why it’s called “flirting with death.” 🙂
      Then again Hel’s realm is more for those who die of old age or disease, the slow rot rather than the exciting and violent demise.
      It’s a shame I don’t have earlier stories of her to precede this one. Gna’s usually a happy-go-lucky daredevil, but this is the story where she either grows up a bit or dies trying. A most challenging time, it’s hard to find joy and the will to go on, but she tries. You’ve got to find something good to hold onto when things are really bad.
      The thing that drew me to Norse mythos: no matter how terrible things are, there’s still room for a laugh. Gna’s an optimist and extrovert, she’s good at finding humor and making friends even when things are dire. Others, not so much. Syn’s story is much more grim. Each one’s pain is different.
      If you want to drive an extreme extrovert to madness, all you need is to isolate them. They can’t process their feelings without someone to talk to. Gna is the goddess of communication…

      Like

  2. sonyjalerulv says:

    A bunch of random thoughts from a sleep deprived fan: I found interesting how Grissella ended up there without any knowledge of the gods and what her Christian baptism did to her spirit. You are slowly developping the cosmology. I like how the view of Hella’s realm is neither sugar coated nor shown as an horrible place. The stillness was downright scary. For a while the feeling of total isolation was very strong, which must have been harsh on an extravert like Gna (as you mentionned, goddess of communication…) Connecting with someone else is what bring her back to live inside. I like the idea of the dark blessing, seem fitting with the place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lofnbard says:

      Well, the question is whether any humans go to Helheim after the old religion was eradicated, and what happens if they’re supposedly marked for the Christian afterlife. I think some do, but that’s more fully explored later. Grisella or someone like her was necessary. You can’t leave a character alone with their own thoughts for too long. But Grisella… she has her own story, and that’s interesting. 🙂
      Yes, writing this has forced me to nail down some views of the afterlife, since the lore is quite fuzzy on the details. I don’t know if this vision is more accurate than any other religion’s story about what happens, but we needed one. It allows discussion, quibbling on the details, and a stage for other people’s gnosis to emerge. I’m not close to Hela, but I do have a good relationship with Mordgud and Gna, so it’s my understanding of their take on it.

      Like

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